It’s not high fructose corn syrup, it’s “corn sugar” – you know, just like “cane sugar”!

It sounds so close that it must be OK. But it’s not. It’s high fructose corn syrup called by another name.

There is no such thing as global warming – it’s “climate change”! This gives us the needed wiggle room for those awkward moments when the data says that the climate is cooling. Being “Pro Life” or “Pro Choice” means you don’t have to be “Anti” anything, your illegals can be “undocumented,” and hey, good news, we don’t need to wage a “War on Terror” when this “Overseas Contingency Operation” is doing such a fine job for us. That last one is real, for those who doubt me here.

The Big Ag lobby is realizing that Michael Pollan and his evangelical work, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has alerted us to the evil that is high fructose corn syrup. I’ve read the research that I’ve read and more importantly have two sons who react to HFCS the same way a pack of Mentos does to a bath in diet Coke. Big Ag wants us to believe that “it’s natural… it’s made from CORN, after all.”

Natural isn’t what it’s stacked up to be. Arsenic is natural. So is Belladonna. Natural can kill you. But this isn’t the reason for the post.

Re-branding is “breaking mental adhesions.”

There’s a real reason we re-brand things: we need to break the satisficing traps our listeners fall into, for better or worse. Better because we can inject fresh freshness into their meaning. Worse because it gives marketers another tool to spin a bad message in a new way.

The Danger of Satisficing.

We “satisfice” when we look to find the first good enough answer to a question rather than seek the optimal solution. We’re busy. We’re bombarded with stimuli (marketers, that means your stuff) and our natural defense mechanism is to quickly assign labels to these demands on our time and put them into convenient psychological buckets. I wrote about this over at The Conference Board Review back in the Fall of 2009:

To be clear, satisficing is a mash-up of two words, satisfy and suffice, coined by social psychologist Herbert Simon. When we satisfice, we seek adequacy, not optimal results. We do the first thing good enough to satisfy our need or answer our question, and then we move on because our busy schedule has little time for reflection. At first blush, this sounds reasonable. We don’t have time to analyze carefully whether a particular book is a good investment of a $20 bill—we look to the reviews. We can’t do a comparative vendor analysis every time our car makes a funny noise—we ask a friend, get a recommendation, and close the case.

Satisficing is the death of many a good idea, regardless of how appropriate it is for your audience. Why? Your target doesn’t want to have to think. I’ve met with VCs who rush to say, “Sorry—just to make this easy for me, who are you exactly like? Can you give me an example so I can explain you to my partners?” Satisficing. He’s too busy to understand.

What Do We Do?

When we run the risk of being quickly pigeon-holed as another “me too” brand, our job is to break the mental molds. We do this by using new frames. We associate ourselves with a different frame of reference (corn sugar, anyone?) or by creating a new category – from smart phones to the Northstar System, creating newness grabs attention.

On the other, more sinister, hand, when the public turns against us and what we’re pushing isn’t being swallowed easily, we kick the spin machine into a higher gear and simply re-label. Look at the spate of new titles in corporate America if you need inspiration here – or just ask your Chief Inspiration Officer.

I’ve said before that satisficing is the enemy of marketers and it’s more apparent now, with faster news cycles, mobile marketing and real-time news feeds draining us of every second of reflection. Once pigeon-holed, we’re stuck. So don’t get stuck in the first place. Just use these lessons for good, please!


[We work on this sort of problem over at Decision Triggers, my partnership with Dr. Steven Feinberg. Join our mailing list here: for more on tapping your target’s decision triggers and moving them to yes, faster.]